New Zealand proposes taxes on animals that burp, pee

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand’s government on Tuesday proposed taxing the greenhouse gases produced by livestock burping and urinating as part of a plan to tackle climate change.

The government said the farm tax would be a world first and that farmers should be able to recoup the costs by charging more for climate-friendly products.

But farmers quickly condemned the plan. Federated Farmers, the industry’s main lobby group, said the plan would “rip the guts out of small-town New Zealand” and see farms replaced with trees.

Federated Farmers President Andrew Hoggard said farmers had been trying to work with the government for more than two years on an emissions reduction plan that would not reduce food production.

“Our plan was to keep farmers in agriculture,” Hoggard said. Instead, he said, farmers would raise prices “so fast that you don’t even hear the dogs barking in the back of the cart as they drive off.”

Opposition lawmakers from the conservative ACT Party said the plan would actually increase worldwide emissions by shifting agriculture to other countries that were less efficient at making food.

New Zealand’s agricultural industry is vital to its economy. Dairy products, including those used to make infant formula in China, are the country’s biggest export earner.

There are only 5 million people in New Zealand, but about 10 million beef and dairy cattle and 26 million sheep.

The outsized industry has made New Zealand unusual in that about half of its greenhouse gas emissions come from farms. Livestock produce gases that warm the planet, notably methane from burping cattle and nitrous oxide from their urine.

The government has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make the country carbon neutral by 2050. Part of that plan includes a pledge to reduce methane emissions from livestock by 10% by 2030 and by up to 47% by 2050.

Under the government’s proposed plan, farmers would start paying for emissions in 2025, while pricing has yet to be finalised.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said all the money raised from the proposed farm levy would be put back into the industry to fund new technology, research and incentive payments to farmers.

“New Zealand’s farmers are set to be the first in the world to reduce agricultural emissions, positioning our largest export market for the competitive advantage that brings a world increasingly concerned with the origins of their food,” Ardern said.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said it was an exciting opportunity for New Zealand and its farmers.

“Farmers are already experiencing the impact of climate change with more regular droughts and floods,” O’Connor said. “Taking the lead on agricultural emissions is both good for the environment and our economy.”

The Liberal Labor government’s proposal harkens back to a similar but failed proposal by a previous Labor government in 2003 to tax farm animals for their methane emissions.

Farmers at the time also fiercely opposed the idea, and political opponents derided it as a “fart tax”—though a “burp tax” would have been more technically accurate, since most methane emissions come from burping. The government eventually abandoned the plan.

According to opinion polls, Ardern’s Labor Party has slipped in popularity and fallen behind the main opposition party since Ardern won a second term in 2020 in a landslide victory of historic proportions.

If Ardern’s government cannot find agreement on the proposal with farmers, who have significant political influence in New Zealand, it is likely to make it more difficult for Ardern to win re-election next year when the nation goes back to the polls.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.

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